INTERACTIVE TOUR: Take a spooky trip through San Jose's Winchester Mystery House

Byby Tess Stevens KGO logo
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
INTERACTIVE TOUR: Take a spooky trip through San Jose's Winchester Mystery House
Today, you've decided to visit one of the most haunted places on Earth: The Winchester Mystery House.

When I was a little kid I was obsessed with haunted houses and ghost stories. I bet you like them too -- or else you wouldn't have clicked on this article, right?

LIST: Top 10 mind-bending facts about the Winchester Mystery House

Like many curious children, the idea of zig-zagging hallways filled with apparitions and smoke made me want to explore whatever was beyond life with the best of the ghost hunters. The best being Scooby Doo and the gang of course.

Once I got older, I realized that ghosts were just another way people cope with history -- sometimes, that history isn't as pleasant as we'd like to imagine.

I lived in San Jose for a period of time and passed the Winchester Mystery House at least a dozen times in my travels to Valley Fair, where I'd buy whatever struck me at places like H&M and Sephora -- never once daring to go inside the monolith that almost looms over Silicon Valley like a cloud of smoke, all windows and doors, floating in the skyline.

Statues in the courtyard look out on to Santana Row, and it makes you wonder, "How is this even possible?"

See? The street signs are right there, and just past them is a Gucci store. I'm not sure if that'd be Sarah Winchester's style.

The house is a living ghost story that thousands of people pass by each day on the way to something else. They don't even think about it. But if they tried to look hard enough they'll see some of the witches caps of the house in the reflection of the glass walls of the Container Store -- or maybe you're just imagining it.

Whether you're a skeptic or a believer, there has to be at least one thing in this house that intregues you. Architecture buffs will notice the dramatic changes from black-and-white photographs to the refurbished parts from 2015.

Ghost hunters will swear that something is lurking behind them in the small doorways and easy-riser stairs.

Children will scream and shout in the candlelight when pale actors and actresses lurk in doorways, fooling the senses.

Halloween is the perfect time to get disoriented in this cavernous property of stacked rooms and ghoulish energy. So...what are we waiting for?

Are you ready to go inside? Okay, let's go!


Sun spills onto the pavement of San Jose on an unnaturally sunny day in October. You see children jogging into Santana Row with their parents' credit cards in hand -- searching for the perfect costume for Halloween. You notice a child carrying a plastic pumpkin and think, "Isn't it a little too early to go trick-or-treating?"

As ghosts and goblins are sold in stores, some real-life ghouls have allegedly made their home in a nearby the towering relic a few blocks away: The Winchester Mystery House.

You've decided to pay them a visit.

Driving up to the house, you can feel something in the air change, as if there were some sort of long-lost breeze pushing you toward the giant gates, double doors waiting on the other side. You notice a kind-faced attendant peeking out of the booth by the gate. "Welcome! Please continue to the gift shop to purchase your tickets," he says.

You think the gift shop will shatter your illusion of traveling back in time -- but it doesn't. Employees wear period costumes and speak with hospitable voices as they welcome you to the estate. Children jump up and down and grab on their parents' pockets -- excited to get scared and explore.

Once you sign up for your tour, you're whisked off to an incredible courtyard where hanging lights and well-manicured trees make you think you're at the Versace Mansion. It's a gorgeous area, complete with a shooting-gallery a-la William Wirt Winchester -- a tribute to the product and the ghosts that built this house.

From there, a kind tour-guide named Sandy May takes your ticket. Her floor-length skirt sweeps along the bricks below the hem as she smiles and guides you toward a green-screen photo opportunity.

Another employee promptly hands you a recreation of an authentic Winchester rifle. There's an almost eerie presence in the breeze as the sun shines down on you, the gun, and the curious estate.

One after the other, the rest of the members of your tour group take the rifle and pose with it. Whether alone or in a group, it's part of the experience. To hold one in your hand is to experience the inspiration for this place. The inspiration for all the paranoia and unanswered questions. It sets the tone, no matter how peculiar or unimaginable.

Sarah Winchester's house is now your playground.

The tour guide begins her speech on the life of Sarah Winchester. "Married into the Winchester rifle family, Sarah fell into a pile of what seemed like an endless amount of money. Historians say it was blood money that Sarah felt guilt for inheriting," the tour guide takes a dramatic pause, "Made off the backs of victims killed by Winchester rifles, which are displayed prominantly in a courtyard museum with glass cases and historical documents.

"Known as a well-to-do woman, Sarah didn't have a care in the world it seemed -- until tragedy struck. Historians say she was changed forever when she lost the most important people she knew -- her infant daughter, Annie Pardee Winchester and her beloved husband, William."

The group stands in awe of the gigantic home that jets into the sky. The tour guide continues.

"Some who have studied the monolith in San Jose would argue that guilt and grief were the main motivator behind the construction of the now infamous South Bay house - which is famous for a seemingly endless supply of passageways, trapped doors, doors that lead to nowhere, stairs that seem so low in height that only a mouse could comfortably navigate them, closets that open up into entire bedrooms, slamming doors, shaking chandaliers, and staircases that end in walls."

How could a ghost possibly get bored with all of that going on?

The tour guide motions for you to follow and the group edges closer to the house.

You walk through the corridor of the mansion and an unusual gust of air hits you. It's not from open windows, but from the sheer force of the grand doors swinging open.

You stand there for a minute and feel complete confusion that will haunt you on your journey.

Suddenly, you're detached from Silicon Valley, from cars and traffic, from your job and your responsibilities. Everything feels different, almost alien. You can feel spirits around you. Walls creek, stairs shorten. You can hear the footsteps of a thousand ghosts, or is that just other people touring the estate? It's hard to tell.

And as the history of the property enters your ears -- you notice a light fading in and out, reflecting off a stain glass window. Is that her, the lady of the house? You'll have to keep exploring to find out.

If you'd like to continue your journey through the home and learn more about the estate, click here.

For more on the Winchester Mystery House and their Halloween candlelight tours, click here.